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BJP is now main threat to Mamata in Bengal
Left and Congress losing support base
By Ashis Biswas
It is not often that a ruling political party's jubilation over a by-election win is laced with a concern for the future. Yet that would be a fitting description of the mood in the Kolkata headquarters of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) following its predictable win at Contai (south) Assembly seat.

Former Law Minster Chandrima Bhattacharya (TMC) duly won by a margin of around 42,000 votes, the party's total votes exceeding the 93,359 it won last year. Again, the gap between the winner's votes (95,369) and that of the runner-up, Bharatiya Janata party (its candidate Samireswar Jana won 52846 votes), was 8000 more than the winning margin in 2016.

Media attention however hovered more on the tally achieved by the BJP than an anticipated TMC win. The BJP's figure increased dramatically from 15223 votes it won in 2016 --- a big leap of 30.97% in one year!

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and most other TMC leaders were in a self congratulatory mode, their tone set by her deliberate downplaying of the new emerging pattern in opposition voting. The BJP had clearly stepped into the space being vacated by the Left Front and the Congress and now looms as the strongest opposition entity.

Senior TMC leader Subrata Baxi urged upon partymen specifically to concentrate on their win and the bigger victory margin, and avoid any reference to 'the performance of other parties.' Observers suggested that intended as a cheer up message to the faithful, Baxi's directive hardly masked his party's concern over the saffron party's performance.

Ms Banerjee's putdown of the opposition was characteristic. 'The people are with us, so we won. I'm not concerned about who comes second or third. We know that the BJP and the CPI(M) sometimes transfer their votes to each another , ganging up against us. The Congress too does this at times.'

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, on a visit to Bengal, countered by pointing out that the increase in the BJP votes had been remarkable at Contai(S) .'a constituency where we hardly had any presence !'

Despite exuding an outward confidence, the fact is the TMC had left nothing to chance at Contai. Senior leaders, MPs and Ministers like Sisir and Subhendu Adhikary, who have deep roots in Midnapore district were specially tasked to ensure a victory. On polling day, no opposition party could match the numerical strength and exuberance of the TMC supporters.

Both the Left Front and Congress candidates, along with BJP's Jana , could not put up an effective campaign. They lacked resources. All three parties reported that they could not man all the polling stations, as the TMC could. Left candidate Uttam Pradhan of the CPI saw his share of votes tumble from 59469 a year ago to only 17423 this time.

It needs stressing that the Congress and the Left front had contested the 2016 polls in an alliance, unlike this year. The Congress fared even worse, its share dropping to only around 2200 in 2017. Both the LF and Congress forfeited their security deposits. The BJP could claim satisfaction at having come second, displacing other opposition parties, a trend also seen at the Tamluk and Coochbehar LS by-elections.

Such a trend indicates an increasing marginalisation of Left and secular parties in Bengal. ' The space for secularism as it is described by politicians , seems to have been taken over by the ruling TMC', says an analyst.

On the other hand, , 'This does not explain why the TMC finds it necessary to take a leaf out of the BJP's book and has begun to observe the Hanuman puja in Bengal,' says Shantanu Sinha, leader of BJP's legal cell.

Even while the Bengal administration denied permission to local organisations to go on rallies and processions to celebrate cultural or religious themes, TMC leaders have participated in spontaneous rallies or marches on the same themes. Some carried weapons, too. Examples : Ministers Sadhan Pandey, Lakshmi Ratan Shukla, Baisakhi Dalmia MLA , Pradip Ghosh civic leader at Midnapore, Jitendra Tewari Mayor of Asansol, and others. Their defence: Rama and Hanuman are not the BJP's appendage, they are worshipped all over India.

Clearly, the growth of support for the BJP in Bengal has forced the TMC into adopting postures that can be generally interpreted as being more responsive than before to majority Hindu sentiments. This has happened for the first time since 2011, and it marks a major change in the TMC's public image and its functioning.

During these years again, there have been consistent complaints from the Left parties, the Congress and the BJP about the TMC's 'appeasement of the minority Muslim community. But until the BJP began celebrating Ram Navami in a major way, the TMC did not feel it necessary to take note of such complaints. State BJP President Dilip Ghosh says, 'The fact that our Chief Minister and her party now acknowledge Rama and take out processions worshipping him, shows our progress in the state.'

Mr. Prasad's admission that the BJP did not have a presence at Contai is a partial explanation of the Contai outcome. As one analyst puts it, his point should not bring much satisfaction to the ruling TMC. 'It is common knowledge that the state BJP is torn by factionalism. It lacks popular dynamic leaders and is still in the process of building up an organisation. These are advantageous factors for the TMC.

But what the BJP lacks in these areas is being more than made up by the spontaneous support from different sections of the people for the saffron party. The preliminary propaganda and preparatory work done by organisations like the Hindu Sanhati and a host of others before Ram Navami won widespread support even among Bengali-speaking people, unlike before. There is a steady shift of supporters and workers from other parties including the TMC, to the BJP. The steady growth of votes for the BJP from Tamluk to Coochbehar to Contai, therefore, cannot be dismissed as a flash in the pan. The BJP is the main focus of opposition votes now. The TMC had better take note,' he said.

—(IPA Service)


News Updated at : Wednesday, April 19, 2017
 
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